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Latest tactic against hate groups: bankruptcy

In civil action that begins Monday, anti-hate groups take Aryan Nations and its philosophy of hate to court.

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For more than 20 years, a ragtag band of ex-Ku Klux Klansmen, skinheads, and other assorted white supremacists in northern Idaho has bedeviled law-enforcement agencies and human rights groups around the country.

Operating out of what looks like a run-down summer camp and known as the Aryan Nations, this shadowy group preaching its apocalyptic "Christian Identity" philosophy of hate has been tied to a series of violent attacks against minorities and government facilities.

Now, civil rights lawyers are trying to put the Aryan Nations and Richard Butler, the group's elderly leader, out of business.

In a civil trial that begins Monday, lawyers will seek large punitive damages against Mr. Butler and his organization for their part in a 1998 roadside attack on Victoria Keenan and her son Jason by three Aryan Nations security men. (Two of the attackers have been convicted and are in prison; the third is a fugitive.)

Human rights advocates see this trial as a crucial tool in the fight against hate crimes and the rapid spread of hateful philosophies.

"I think this will be a landmark case," says Floyd Cochran, a former member of the Aryan Nations. "This will send a powerful message to white-supremacist groups all across the country that it's one thing to have hateful ideas, but it's another if you act upon those ideas - that the individual and the organization will be held responsible."

"Also, the trial is bringing about a greater awareness for mainstream Americans that hate groups do exist, that they do go out and attack people," says Mr. Cochran, who left the Aryan Nations compound eight years ago and now tours the country speaking against hate groups. Cochran is scheduled to testify at the trial, which is being held in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

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